An Ode to New York

“But that’s Brooklyn, like Troy, a seven-layer cake of remembering where everyone has their own version and all of them are true, at least to themselves.”

— Mark Jacobson from “Brooklyn is finished. Or has it only just begun?” in New York Magazine, October 1, 2012.

I’m a little late in catching up with my New York Magazine reading. It’s April 2013 in Tel Aviv (probably in Brooklyn too) and I’m reading an October edition that my mom sent to me a few weeks ago in a care package, along with organic, raw chocolate and other mentally and physically healthy goodies. The article was about the opening of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and gave a brief history of the ever-changing nature of the borough through the decades of gentrification. It made me miss New York a whole lot.

When I was in Paris last week, I was on the metro (for the first time in over a year, in any city) and for the first time in over a year in Israel, I began to really miss New York. The big city vibe of Paris made me realize how small Tel Aviv and the entire country of Israel is. And it’s not to say that I need that hustle and bustle of city life to keep me going, but that energy – of being able to do whatever you want to do whenever you want that only exists in NYC – I miss it.

Back when I had dreams of being a ballerina and actually thought they could come true (I was maybe 8 years old), my mom and I watched the film FAME (1980) together, which was about a group of students in a preforming arts high school in, you guessed it, NYC. I remember the neon lights of French, White ballerinas dancing with Black modern hip-hop dancers and the controversy and pretty regular high school gossip it stirred among the other students. The movie was about talent, determination, and making it big in the only city that will continuously push you down until you have no hope left – that’s when you move back to your parent’s place in the suburbs, or start moving out to the outer boroughs because Manhattan is just not affordable and your parents get tired of supporting your unrealistic big dreams of catching the moon in your hands.

I went to New York University for a semester before my senior year in high school. I don’t know how they let me take a Greek Classicism course for college credit since I was only 16 years old and definitely not a college student, but somehow they did and I had the best address in all of Manhattan for a whole three months, Washington Square East and W 4th Street. I got a fake ID somewhere on St. Marks Place and went out to really crappy bars and drank shit beer, before I knew my body completely rejected alcohol, just about every night. I fell in love that summer, for the first time, and of course it was unrequited… Both NYC and Silk Shirts, Hairy Chests thought I was too young and too naive for the big, bad city. I had to wait another four years before I could officially move there and get my heart broken all over again, again and again.

I read the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn later than anticipated, in my 20s. Not sure why it took me so long, it was always on my list of books to read but I just never got around to it. Actually, if memory serves me right, I was suffering from a high fever in St. Petersburg, Russia in the winter of 2005, and I had nothing else to do, when I picked up one of three or four English books I brought with me for my year long adventure. I knew I was starting law school the following year and I had applied to all the New York schools. I always wanted to live there, I was going to get there some day and I knew that it was about time to finally read the Brooklyn classic.

The book pulled on my heart strings and made me so excited to finally and soon, live in a city so rich in American, immigrant, Jewish, Black, EVERYTHING history. I watched Spike Lee movies growing up, I knew cool artist-types were moving into Brooklyn, I didn’t know yet what the term “hipster” meant but I wanted to be party with these kids. I wanted to see the Hasidic community, up close and personal, after watching the film A Stranger Among Us (1992); I wanted to relive the immigrant struggle and later gangster-prohibition era after seeing Once Upon a Time in America (1984); I wanted to ride the subway to work; I wanted to be apart of it – the Russians in Brighton Beach, the Italians in the Lower East Side, Mos Def’s Bed-Stuy do or die, Kerouac and Ginsberg’s and the rest of the Beats’ drunken and poetic Greenwich Village, Borroughs’ $26 in my hand, Times Square with it’s bad rep of prostitution and blinking lights, Sinatra’s New York, New York.

Of course the 80s were not my generation, I moved to Brooklyn (2005) when it was already too kool for skool, and I was about to embark on a three journey through hell and back – law school, which will always be the antithesis of cool, but I didn’t care. I was finally making my dreams come true, I was moving to the neon lights with my big city dreams, even though any aspirations of becoming a ballerina were long gone.

I’ve been wathcing the HBO show Girls lately and it both annoys and amuses me at the same time. My life in Brooklyn was not quite like theirs, but at the same time the show hits a little too close to home sometimes for me to think its funny. Sex and the City was not my generation, but I still watched it. I didn’t think I was going to move to NYC and wear stilettos and drink martinis but I did think I was going to have a lot of sex and finally meet artists, intellectuals, recreational drug users that were not just smoking pot in their dorm rooms or in the parents’ suburban basements out of boredom. I was going to experience life, the one I had been waiting for.

Anyways, to make a long story short, I miss New York and more than that, I miss wanting to be apart of it more than anything else in this ever-expanding universe of ours. Israel has history that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around, and that’s fascinating too. The Tel Aviv hipsters live in Jaffa (an old, walled city of biblical importance which has historically been an Arab city, look up Jonah and the Whale) and Florentin (a grungy neighborhood with cheap(er) rent that reminds me of Bushwick and Detroit but with old Bauhaus architecture instead of industrial, abandoned buildings, and lots of Sudanese and Euritran immigrants instead of Dominican, Puerto-Rican and African Americans). Hipsters here believe in a two-state solution, usally lean very far left and criticize the right-wing government of Bibi Netanyahu, really think that change is possible for a less racist democracy, but at the same time what do they know about democracy? This country is only, what, 65 years old next week and the majority of its neighbors don’t even recognize it’s right to exist? Sure there’s always a war going on here, but their slavery was in the B.C. era, while the Civil War happened in a democratic America only a little over a century ago. Their “other” is different, no doubt, I can’t fairly compare the political situation of the United States to Israel, and the State of Israel and it’s development and progress has been enormous in the last half of the century, I’ll give them that. But really, historically, how can left-wing Israeli hipsters (and I’m not including immigrants in this definition but strictly Sabra Israelis born and bred), whose country is only starting to scratch the surface of obtaining a distinct culture and societal infrastructure, know what a fair fight for justice and democracy consists of? Democracy, or some version of it, is just starting to take root here. And on another completely unrelated note, I don’t understand how the majority of modern and politically active individuals living in Tel Aviv (Israeli Jews, not Arabs, a minority in Israel) make more effort in staging social protests about prices of cottage cheese and high rent, when there is a war raging along every single side of Israel’s borders? I guess that’s what happens in a democracy, we start caring about the economy and striving for a better socio-economic status (for the collective “we” or for just ourselves) despite the political environment and despite what’s going on outside our vaguely drawn borders. Also, can we for one minute think about the impact Syria will have on this entire region once something happens, and guess what, something is going to happen; they’re not just going to kill each other and keep everything else unaffected. Assad is going down, it’s just a matter of time. If North Korea doesn’t scare you, the uncertainty of another Arab dictatorship in the Middle East collapsing should be terrifying.

And in the middle of my rant, I just realized that there is a certain energy here, which I would have never been able to find in New York. Yes, I miss New York, that much is clear, but in the words of an influential singer in my personal history:

“Now if your from Uptown, Brooklyn- bound,
The Bronx, Queens, or Long Island Sound,
Even other states come right and exact,

IT AIN’T WHERE YOU’RE FROM, IT’S WHERE YOU’RE AT!”

— Eric B and Rakim, “You Know You Got Soul”

also, I’m listening to Mos Def lately again.

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Driving with Kimi back to downtown Brooklyn, where I first lived in NYC in the dorms of Brooklyn Law School, which I must say were more luxurious than most apartments I’ve had. I was so proud of this photo at the time, I’m not sure why. Something about the colors, twilight time, that beginning-of-everything energy I had about New York, the fuckin’ buildings and busy, panicked air. I loved it all, I was so excited. I felt like I was on the edge of something amazing, something finally happening to me. I was living in New York City. Really it didn’t matter what happened after this.

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From the roof of my second apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ten Eyck Street. We had a little balcony that looked out into a courtyard and another apartment building directly across the courtyard – Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for sure. Bearded hipster dudes in tight jeans would throw very late night parties in the summer time, I felt so cool just being in the neighborhood, even though I only went to like one of those parties. From the roof, you could see Manhattan, and all it’s glory. Every time I crossed the Williamsburg bridge on the JMZ trains, I would get chills down my back because the view of lower Manhattan from the slow-moving subway on the bridge was breathtaking, dirty, rickety, and inspiring… every fuckin’ time.

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Snow, maybe early 2009. Ten Eyck roof.

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Chelsea Hotel window. Only stayed there for one fun night, but the view… the city, the history of the place…
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My personal snow globe for one glorious month in Greenpoint, Brookyln, when I was studying my ass off for the New York Bar Exam in February of 2010. I guess I’ll always be connected to New York because of this. 🙂 My hair was growing then, maybe it was long already – a measure of time. I was not very social, I woke up early everyday with a lot of determination and inspiration to get shit done.

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New York, round two, in a West Village sublet after a brief stint on the West Coast. Sunny mornings showering in the bathtub right next to my fridge, laundering my unmentionables in the kitchen sink, the one mouse I only saw in the middle of the night that came to haunt my dreams for months, the heater that sizzled, popped every hour and may it unbearably cozy in Autumn of 2010.

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Waiting for AAA to come fix my flat tire in DUMBO on Groundhog Day, 2011. Having a car in NYC, courtesy of my job at Alpinestars at the time, made me see the entire place with different eyes. The first time I crossed the Williamsburg bridge into Manhattan, I had a panic attack, but eventually, it became pretty empowering to drive in the city with angry taxi drivers.

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The moon rising or the sun setting from a rooftop in Manhattan, summer 2011.

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Some kind of strange distortion my phone camera creted on a fun filled afternoon gallery hopping with Morgan in Chelsea. The distortion seemed fitting, I was starting to feel like my time in NYC was ending. The Highline, January 2012.

On a rooftop in Brooklyn…

At one in the morning
Watching the lights flash
In Manhattan
I see five bridges
The Empire State Building
And you said something
That I’ve never forgotten

P.J. Harvey, You Said Something

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